Why we still need radical, non-electoral groups
Letter published in today’s National: (the published version has been trimmed a bit – this is the original text)
In the wake of last year’s No vote, tens of thousands of Scots joined political parties. It was the first sign that a population newly energised by politics would not go back to apathy. Since then, the official Yes campaign has closed up shop, but plenty of groups born of the indyref are still going strong: the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), Women for Independence, Common Weal, Bella Caledonia, Independence Live, just to name a few.
Some of RIC’s founders and supporters have gone on to develop RISE, an electoral alliance of the left. RIC and RISE have similar principles and similar long-term goals, and RISE builds on the skills, lessons and relationships of the referendum campaign.
So why do we still need a radical, non-electoral movement?
1) Cross-party cooperation.
Our political system is built on competition. As much as we may wish for consensus-based politics and cross-party alliances, the hard truth is that elections result in winners and losers. As soon as a party (or electoral alliance) stands for election, they compete – by necessity – with every other party standing. Even when we stand side-by-side, ballot papers turn allies into opponents.
A non-electoral organisation like RIC helps to build connections between people from a range of parties. RIC activists include members of the Greens, the SSP, RISE, the SNP, and others. Many prefer to avoid party membership altogether. RIC is a place for people to unite around shared values, no matter which rosette they wear during election season.
2) Speaking truth to power.
Acting as a pressure group, RIC can exert influence from outside the parliament. The relationships built during the referendum allow us to approach politicians as allies while still holding them to account. It’s a unique position, and it’s only possible without the pressure of electoral competition.
3) Agreeing to disagree.
The beauty of not being a party is that we don’t have to agree with each other about everything.
Of course we can focus on areas where we agree, but we don’t need to decide on a party line or policy agenda. This makes RIC fertile ground for discussion and exploration. New possibilities open up when we stop worrying about finding the ‘right’ answer.
4) Escaping the elections cycle.
By necessity, political parties are wedded to the voting cycle. A non-electoral organisation like RIC can make a contribution around election time, but its main activities fill the spaces between elections. This sort of consistency is important for keeping momentum and ensuring that there’s always something happening.
5) Horizontal organising.
Alongside competition, our electoral process embodies hierarchy. Even in the most progressive parties, by necessity there are still candidates, leaders, office-bearers, central committees. When we ask voters to make their choice, we try to persuade them that our candidate is the best.
Without the pressure to meet electoral commission guidelines or win votes, no one has to be better than anyone else. We have the freedom to experiment with different ways of organising, and RIC has worked hard to develop horizontal structures. There is no membership fee, and people can be involved without being members. Local groups have autonomy to operate as they wish. National decisions are made by consensus according to the opinions of local groups, and national tasks are carried out by teams of volunteers from across Scotland, again chosen by local groups. There is an emphasis on sharing responsibilities, developing skills and ensuring that everyone can participate.
6) Thinking about the next referendum.
When the next referendum comes, all different kinds of organisations will be needed to win. It will be vitally important to have a radical, non-party-political campaign group, committed to a Yes vote and to transforming Scotland. No one wants to start from scratch next time. So RIC will keep building connections and skills, keep encouraging discussion, and keep pulling the debate to the left. And until the next referendum, we can work together to transform Scotland, regardless of who’s in charge.